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What's in a street name? Plenty

On the surface, the distinction between a street, avenue or a road might seem like a dead-end discussion for most people.

In the world of emergency services, it could be a matter of life or death.

During the past 20 years, the city of Medford and other local governments have become more cautious in naming streets to avoid confusion for police and fire departments when they are dispatched for emergency calls.

"We're trying to make sure there is not a duplication for public safety reasons," said Bruce Spence, chairman of the Citizens Planning Advisory Committee in Medford.

The City Council will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m., Thursday, in City Hall, 411 W. Eight St., to establish a more uniform procedure for renaming streets within the city as well as for private roads.

In an emergency, the difference between Elm Street and Elm Avenue, or Howard Street and Howard Avenue, can be critical when police and fire are dispatched.

The city, along with other jurisdictions in the county, no longer allows those kinds of duplicate street names or street names that sound similar.

Under the proposed code amendment, the city would apply the same rules for the renaming of streets, something that is requested once or twice a year.

The ordinance change would not affect existing street names, which are often chosen by developers when subdivisions are built.

City staff already spends considerable time reviewing proposed new street names, and will conduct a similar process for renaming streets.

Usually, a developer submits names of streets in a subdivision, then the city checks to make sure the name hasn't been used. The names are then sent to emergency service agencies for review, as well as to the post office.

Streets are often named after family members. Newer subdivisions have shown an inclination toward themes, such as naming streets after wines or Italian villages.

In Medford's early days, trees and plants were a popular choice for street names, with streets such as Fir, Grape, Holly and Ivy marching alphabetically west from downtown. There's a Grape Street in west Medford, but there's also a Grape Street cul-de-sac in south Medford off Highway 99 — something that would no longer be allowed.

Suzanne Myers, principal planner for Medford, said it's very difficult to rename a street because the change doesn't sit well with residents.

She said an effort to rename Ford Drive to Mercedes Drive failed recently because neighbors of the Mercedes dealership didn't like the idea.

A dirt road off of Cherry Lane was also called Cherry Lane, but Myers said the city finally approved the name change to Aerial Heights Drive after local residents agreed.

Airport Terminal Spur Road got its name after the new terminal was built at the Medford airport, she said.

The city allows only 11 different suffixes for streets — such as avenue, lane or place — because of limitations in computer systems.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

The Medford Mercedes dealership will remain on the corner of Ford Drive and Crater Lake Avenue after an effort to change it to Mercedes Drive failed with the disapproval of neighbors. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune - Bob Pennell